The Rugby World Cup of 2015 has come to an end. It has been one of the best ever. (At least according to the BBC). More importantly, the All Blacks of New Zealand have managed to do what no other team has ever managed to do; successfully defending the World Cup. This also takes their tally to 3 World Cups, which is more than any other country.
Our lesson this week (and potentially the last one of this series): Company Culture takes you home.
The All Blacks are probably home already, but they should still be celebrating a magnificent triumph. Not only did they overcome their arch nemesis the Springboks in the semi-finals, but they also beat their closest rivals Australia in the final. A small fact that no one seems to have picked up on is that while the All Blacks did not win the Rugby Championship this year, they did manage to beat all the other participants in the competition on the way to the golden cup. (Argentina in the pool stage, South Africa in the semi’s and Australia in the final)
The very popular song by John Denver rings in your ears as the All Blacks take the Webb Ellis trophy back to New Zealand.
“Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.”
I might upset a few local fans, but New Zealand is probably the spiritual home of rugby and books have been written about the culture in the All Black side. In 2007 the All Blacks hit the rock bottom of their quest to add a second world cup trophy. In between world cups they had a choke hold on the world rugby scene with a win percentage of over 70%, only to get to the world cup and choke out before the final. In 1995 they lost to South Africa in the final, in 1999, again lost to South Africa, this time in the bronze medal match. In 2003 they at least beat South Africa in the quarter final only to lose to Australia in the semi final when George Gregan famously taunted them by saying “Four more years…” to their distraught faces as the whole world watched. In 2007 it was the unpredictable French who dumped them out of the competition. By the time the 2011 final rolled around with New Zealand again pitted against the French it was 24 years since they last won the trophy and won them the moniker, “The best team in the world… … between World Cups”. At last they won it in 2011 and only had to wait four more years to win it again.
What happened between 2007 and 2011 to allow this great rugby team to win the trophy again? According to James Kerr and others, the All Blacks sat down and has a serious look at themselves before coming up with a behavioural code that inspired change. this culture change propelled the All Black forward and this allowed them to raise their win percentage to an awe inspiring 80+% over the next four years. They only lost 4 games between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. James Kerr writes in the Guardian “In 2004 the All Blacks set out to identify the ‘core story’ of the team and aligned everything around this central organising narrative.”
Looking at the core of this team we identified the following items that couldbe regarded as company culture:
1.) Every Player Knows Their Role
Sonny-Bill Williams is probably one of the most talented sportsmen in the world. He has two Rugby (union) World Cup medals and between the two world cups he added three NZ heavy weight (boxing) titles as well as a National Rugby Championship (NRC) winner’s medal (Rugby League). With all this decoration he was still content to sit on the bench on come on as an impact player replacing Ma’a Nonu in most games.
2.) No superstars
James Kerr and the All Blacks have a different term for this concept, however we will keep it clean here. While the whole NZ team could walk into any other side in the world they have no big ego’s. Probably one of the clearest signs of this is the fact that the whole team wore black socks and black boots for the World Cup. With very little advertising allowed outside of official sponsors, the boots the players wear are probably one of the only areas where a popular player could make a few dollars in endorsements, yet the whole team forfeited this and kept to simple black boots and unified the team.
3.) Common Goal
The All Blacks had only one goal and that is to win the World Cup, nothing distracted them from this goal. There were no big parties or scandals in the papers about any of the players. The biggest news event was the winning medal the Sonny-Bill Williams (him again) gave to a young fan who ran on to the pitch after the final. Even this act symbolizes the team spirit that is carried by the whole NZ nation. It’s never about the individual, its about the team and the pride of representing the country.
With this culture of winning, the rugby world shudders to think that it may only be four more years until they win the cup again.